Casper Ruud, Frances Tiafoe seal titles in Estoril and Houston, as Monte-Carlo gets underway

Frances Tiafoe

Having struggled with poor form so far this season, two-time Major finalist Casper Ruud finished an eventful week in Estoril as a champion at ATP 250 level against a good friend in Miomir Kecmanovic, while US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe did the same overnight: ending a five-year wait for an ATP title, outlasting surging Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry in two tiebreak sets.

Clay specialist Ruud reels off four straight – he needed that

Ruud poses for pictures after earning the Estoril title on his first attempt

Ruud [1] bt. Kecmanovic [6] 6-2, 7-6 (7-3)

He looked tense in the second set tiebreak, aware their encounter could suddenly unravel at any moment. Angrily gesticulating to his player box on the far side, it would’ve been easy for the Norwegian to go into his shell and fall away drastically.

Instead, he trusted his forehand and reaped the rewards against a long-time friend who produced some gasp-inducing moments himself but had no answers for it.

Sometimes critics are guilty of overanalysing behaviour during tight moments, but it was encouraging to see Ruud play his groundstrokes into form in a difficult set two.

That’s perhaps the biggest takeaway from a first H2H meeting since 2019 against Kecmanovic, who had beaten him in each of their last two matches.

Having had success together as a doubles pairing at Major tournaments in the juniors and regularly practiced too, it’s no surprise to see the Serbian was more competitive after a one-sided first set ended after 36 minutes.

Kecmanovic was a beaten finalist in the tournament’s singles and doubles competitions

Set two lasted double the time and much like earlier in the week, Ruud had to fend off adversity to stay on track as both held firm during longer service games.

He failed to convert any of his five break point chances down the stretch, but persisted with pressure before clever shot selection did the trick: making for a happier ending than the last Serbian he played in a final.

Ruud beat a pair of Estoril champions en route to the final – Joao Sousa and Sebastian Baez – with the latter forcing him into a series of uncomfortable moments that don’t really tell the full story as far as the straight-sets win (6-3, 6-0) is concerned.

He agreed with that sentiment afterwards, but is aware his highest level trumps most on tour and even moreso on clay, where he’s won nine of his ten ATP titles to date.

Given a first-round bye as a top-eight seed, he’ll be wise to remember that last sentence now, with his Miami conqueror Botic van de Zandschulp or banana skin opponent Marton Fucsovics drawn to play him in R2 of the Monte-Carlo Masters.

Tiafoe ends losing streak in finals, but not without a battle

Tiafoe made it to the Indian Wells semis, before losing to Daniil Medvedev in two tight sets

Tiafoe [1] bt. Etcheverry [8] 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6) 

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, Tiafoe withdrew from the Monte-Carlo Masters and lucky loser Emil Ruusuvori has replaced him in the draw.

US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe will wake up today with a new career-high world ranking of #11 and travel to Monaco optimistic about his chances of more success on clay at an even higher level, after ending a run of four ATP final defeats.

Joao Sousa (Estoril, 2018), Alexander Zverev (Vienna, 2021), Baez (Estoril, 2022) and most recently compatriot Taylor Fritz in Japan completed a quartet of defeats at the final hurdle for Tiafoe, whose stock has risen over the last year.

Now though – much like another agemate in Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul – he needs more silverware to show for that progression.

Five years and two months after his first title came in Delray Beach, it feels fitting he added a second on home soil again in the US, though it was far from plain sailing.

The Houston crowd roared in support of their countryman, who produced some electrifying tennis at times and did so a variety of different ways.

Whether it was firing a dozen aces – including one down the t on championship point – showing deft touch with slice and drop shots, covering ground across all angles behind the baseline or a flurry of bullish return aces, Tiafoe was fired up.

That may have been the case, but for those unfamiliar with his steady rise up the rankings… Argentina’s 23-year-old Etcheverry showed against Andy Murray that he’s far from a pushover and responded well in the face of adversity.

The jeopardy of two tiebreak sets made for compelling viewing, especially as Tiafoe got tight when serving for the match and was broken back at 5-4.

It was ultimately in a losing effort, but Etcheverry’s shot-making and stubbornness during their longer rally exchanges was such that he’ll continue to chop down the rankings (new career-high #59) after another successful week in unfamiliar territory.

Etcheverry made life difficult for Murray, in a spirited three-set Indian Wells defeat last month

He joked during the ceremony that, yesterday morning (Saturday in US), he was still in round two and now was addressing the Houston crowd as a worthy runner-up – one that is sure to have earned fans with his play in the country this past month.

Weather conditions were poor this week with persistent rainfall and scheduling was a hindrance as matches were forced to have quick turnarounds, but Tiafoe didn’t seem to mind after Lorenzo Sonego sent him out early (6-3, 6-4) in Miami last week.

It’ll be interesting to see how he recovers before a first-time meeting with Australian Open quarterfinalist Jiri Lehecka, set for Tuesday morning.

Monte-Carlo: Other notable R1 matchups

Miomir Kecmanovic vs. Lorenzo Musetti
Sebastian Baez vs. Jack Draper
Cameron Norrie [11] vs. Francisco Cerundolo
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs. Karen Khachanov [9]
Daniel Evans vs. Ilya Ivashka [Q]
Maxime Cressy vs. Matteo Berrettini
Alex de Minaur vs. Andy Murray
Ben Shelton vs. Grigor Dimitrov

Picture source: Getty Images, Tiafoe opening image via Jared Wickerham/US Clay